Geoffrey Boycott, the former Yorkshire and England batsman who has metamorphosed into a trenchant radio and television commentator, has never been one to hide his opinions. And nor are people generally slow to offer an opinion about him, either. Love him or loathe him, he attracts comment like no other cricketer past or present.
And he came in for some unambiguous flak during the Adelaide Test last week, when Clare Connor, the ECB director of women’s cricket, tweeted thus: “God, the arrogant, all-knowing opinions of Boycott are bordering on unbearable this morning.” The tweet was quickly deleted, but Connor had certainly made her feelings known.
And then Matthew Engel, writing for The Guardian, damned Boycott with some mostly faint praise while simultaneously assassinating the Yorkshireman’s character and commentating abilities in withering fashion. “Connor was spot-on. He really is becoming unbearable,” Engel opined before concluding with “I think we’ve all heard enough”.
Connor and Engel are clearly entitled to their thoughts, whether it be about Boycott the cricketer, Boycott the commentator or even Boycott the human being. But what I found rather unseemly was Engel’s barely veiled attack on Boycott’s so-called reticence to face fast bowlers. Engel wrote: “I still chuckle about ‘Abbeydale back’, the mysterious injury that seemed to beset him [Boycott] before games on the pacy pitch at Abbeydale Park in Sheffield, especially if the opposition had a menacing West Indian in the attack.”
I beg to differ. It has always been my firm belief that Boycott’s self-imposed Test exile between 1974 and 1977 was because he thought he should be England captain – not because he had a fear of fast bowling, as Engel implies. When Boycott declined to tour Australia in 1974/75, it was unclear whether Dennis Lillee would even play Test cricket again while Jeff Thomson had previously played just one Test (against Pakistan two years previously, when his match figures were 0 for 110).
Anyway, following Engel’s assertion about ‘Abbeydale back’ and menacing West Indians, here are a few facts about Boycott and Abbeydale Park:
• In his Yorkshire career, out of a possible 25 first-class matches at Abbeydale Park, Boycott missed four through injury and six because he was playing Test cricket.
• In just one of the four matches that Boycott missed through injury was there a West Indian in the opposition attack. That was a three-day game, which commenced on 30 June 1976, against the touring West Indies. Because of a hand injury and then disc trouble, Boycott had not played since mid-May and he would not play again until mid-July. He missed nine consecutive championship matches that summer – six before the West Indies game and three afterwards.
• Boycott missed two Abbeydale Park games in 1980 because he was playing Test cricket against, erm, a West Indies attack that featured (the slightly menacing!) Messrs Roberts, Holding, Marshall, Garner and Croft.
So, I have a question. Is Boycott’s ‘Abbeydale back’ a) a “mysterious injury that seemed to beset him… ” or b) a load of fictional bollocks?